Thursday, June 14, 2007

Random Reflections on Class

I was traveling back from my house hunting trip, after having spent a morning at the St. Louis Arch, and a logical stopping point turned out to be the middle of nowhere. It was, in fact, the capital of nowhere, so there was a sizeable (tens of thousands) town, where my Mom's cousins lived.

Here is the backstory: twin sisters, each of whom attended college, and married college educated men. One of these was my maternal grandmother. These twin sisters had a brother, who did NOT attend college, and whose sons did not attend college. These sons are my Mom's cousins, and I and my family spent the night at their house there in the capital of nowhere.

Now in my Mom's family narrative, the college thing is a significant class marker between her mom's side of the family and her uncle's side, unto the nth generation. There are exceptions here: I have a second cousin that went to college and is now a school teacher, and a second cousin once-removed who is presently attending college. But in my Mom's narrative, the class division is still alive, and this branch of the family is low-class.

So it was interesting to get an idea how this was perceived by the other side.

Uncle Bob (let's call him) and his wife live in a well-kept rancher on a street lined with well-kept ranchers. (Nota bene: Nowheresville is remarkably egalitarian.) We arrived just in time for dinner, so I took them out. I had the impression that Uncle Bob and Aunt Betty (let's call her) are Country Buffet type people, so I thought it would be a treat for them to go to a place like Chilis, which is not a particularly fancy restaurant, but a cut above Country Buffet. I ordered a steak, which I might not have gotten had it just been me, but I wanted my guests to feel like they could order whatever they wanted. As it happened, they ordered country-fried steak, which they could have gotten at Country Buffet. Oh well.

Now I don't really think of myself as snobbish in the way I treat people. I do my best to approach them where they are, not with condescension, and I try not to flaunt my credentials as if they meant something. But deep down, I suppose I do think that teaching college, having two engineering degrees and working on a third, does really say something positive about me.

But those credentials don't go very far in Nowheresville. After we went back to their house, they told me about my second cousin. He laid carpet. He was, in fact, a very successful carpet layer. He had laid the carpet in their basement in x amount of time. He made good money laying carpet.

Uncle Bob took me out to see his racecar. My cousin was a drag racer, and he kept his car in Uncle Bob's detached garage. It was custom made; Uncle Bob and his son did almost all the work themselves. It had a specialty-built engine, and all kinds of modifications. He showed my photographs on the wall and newspaper clippings from the races he'd been in.

Uncle Bob took me inside to see the grandfather clock that his son had made in shop class as a senior in high school. Not the clock part, but the cabinet. It was exquisitely well done. "I feel like I misspent my life," I said. He gestured toward the photograph of his other son, the school teacer: "That one spent all his time playing video games in high school," he said.

Uncle Bob invited over his brother, Uncle Bill (let's call him). More conversations about racecars and carpet. Engineering degrees counted for squat.

But I did recover a bit. Uncle Bob and Uncle Bill had a brother that had been killed years before while flying his own airplane. Eventually, this came up, and I used the opportunity to tell my own flying stories. I got a pilot's license years ago, which I mainly used to attract girls, but I quit flying when I got married. But I could tell about the scrapes I got into airplane-wise, my only claim to respect in Nowheresville.

The next day was Sunday, so we all went off to church, this being a feature of life in Nowheresville. It was a Baptist church, with only one video screen. To make up for it, during some special music in the worship service, they used a playback. (Picture Φ grimacing with high-church snobbery.) We also went to Sunday school. I peeked into the classroom and noticed that everyone there had a Bible with a leather zip-cover. Now, my wife and I have Bibles too, but we usually don't travel with them on the grounds that it's just one more thing to get lost. Oh crap, I thought. "I have to get us some Bibles," I whispered to my wife, as I ran to the sanctuary in search of pew Bibles. These, of course, don't have leather zip-covers, the absence of which no doubt marked us as outsiders, but at least not hopelessly Bibleless pagans that wandered in off the streets.

This visit, I didn't get to see Chelsea, the daughter of my cousin the carpet layer. I had meant Chelsea during my previous visit three years earlier, when I was driving through with my Mom on my way to the city where I am now leaving. I remembered two things about Chelsea, who was in high school at the time: first, she was really attractive. (For some reason, Dizzy gets pissed when I use the word "hot," even though she uses it herself.) Second, she totally ignored me. At the time, I chalked this up to the bored teenaged anomie of Nowheresville. Since then, I have come to realize that my presence didn't merit her attention, seeing as how I don't have a racecar, or know how to lay carpet.

Chelsea is now in college and, according to her grandfather, self-identifies as a "Christian, right-wing Republican." I replied, "well, at least there are two of us in the family." "We're right wing Republicans, too!" Uncle Bob said proudly.


Dizzy said...

What? I never got pissed about the word "hot." I do use it myself. I think I may have gotten irritated that you were correlating a woman's value with her hotness level or something. But I don't really know what you're talking about here. Do you have any posts where you don't take a crack at me? What did I do to get under your skin so badly? You're not on my blog at all...

Φ said...

Dizzy: Thank you for posting. In answer to your question, in one of our early exchanges over on Bobvis, you put what I took to be scare quotes around "hot" when you were addressing my appraisal of a particular woman's pulchritude.

I did not intend to imply that a woman's value is one-dimensional. But the fact is that beauty is the first thing we notice, and below some threshold, the lack of it is a first-order deal-breaker for a romantic relationship.

And that is . . . too bad! Yeah, I probably could have married sooner had I been romantically attracted to the young woman of kind and generous spirit and impeccable character I used to be friends with. But I couldn't get past the fact that she was 40 lbs heavier than I was (212 lbs to be exact, and not attractive on a 5'4" frame). And I KNOW that makes me "shallow" and I'M SORRY! It is one of the limitations of my character, one that, come the day of judgment, I will rightly be held accountable.

Did you ever feel that way toward anyone? As in: "What a nice guy! I like being his friend, he's got so much to offer, and it's TOO BAD that I can't get past trivial factor X and I hope he finds happiness with someone who can get past it."

If you have ever felt that way, you haven't written a post about it, or if you did, then I couldn't find it. In the Dizzyverse, all the men that are turned away possess a multitude of gross character flaws that JUSTLY condemn them to a life of solitude, rejection and failure. And it's THIS lack of humanity and compassion, NOT the rejection per se, that is (1) typical (though not universal) of the twentysomething women of my experience and (2) what gets under my skin (to answer your question).

On a lighter note, do I get any credit for my trenchant observations on class (the subject of the post, after all)?